What we learned at ONA from a conference “newbie”

By Anthony Marquez

A first-time AP attendee reveals his highlights from #ONA15.

The Online News Association conference is the world’s largest gathering of digital journalists (more than 2,100!) trying to build their skills. Startups were present, generating interest, while established companies worked on best practices and trying to find a right path forward.

So where does The Associated Press fit in? All over.

AP plays an important role in just about every part of the digital journalism world. We are a not-for-profit news organization that’s been around awhile – since 1846 – but one that still values innovation in both our editorial and commercial products. While it was my first ONA conference, AP has been involved with ONA going back to the group’s founding in 1999, and we’ve had a particularly big role there in recent years.

“Most notably, AP journalists have led the charge in the important ethics initiatives that have become central to ONA’s thought leadership in the industry,” said Eric Carvin, our social media editor and an ONA board member. “The relationship between AP and ONA is strong and has been very valuable to both organizations.”

AP staffers stand in front of AP’s booth during the Online News Association’s 2015 Conference and Awards Banquet in Los Angeles, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. From left: Troy Thibodeaux, interactive newsroom technology editor; Jaime Holguin, manager of news development; Anthony McCartney, entertainment reporter; Tom Kent, standards editor; Eric Bandy, Americas marketing manager; Hannah Cushman, social media editor, Central region; Paul Cheung, director of interactive and digital news products; Jessica Saller, Americas marketing director; Anna Johnson, deputy editor, West region; Anthony Marquez, Los Angeles chief of bureau; Alina Hartounian, user-generated content specialist; Justin Myers, news automation editor; Kathy Pummill, national video executive; and Frank Baker, California news editor. (AP Photo)

Here are a few examples of what we’re working on that were discussed at ONA:

Ethics

Ethics are built into everything we do at AP, and our efforts in this area are led by Standards Editor Tom Kent. Kent also helms ONA’s “Build Your Own Ethics Code” project, an interactive experience that helps news organizations, small startups and individual bloggers navigate the digital era. At the conference, he led a workshop presenting attendees with a series of real-world ethical questions and asked how their newsrooms would respond.

Nowhere is ethics more important than in the curation of user-generated content. Hannah Cushman, one of our regional social media editors, participated in a panel discussion on the challenges of working with video and images taken at crime scenes or battlefields overseas.

Audience

Jennifer Benz, the deputy director of The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, took on the task of describing millennials and their news habits. As it turns out, these “snake people” are hardly “newsless” — a majority of this young demographic regularly received paid news content in the last year, including 40 percent who personally paid for it themselves.

Facebook and search engines are still the most common sources for obtaining news, though, even among millennials who pay for news from other sources, the same study revealed.

“They want transparency, hyperlinks to sources and related content,” Benz said. “That also transcends that generation.”

For more insight into millennials, visit our #APMillennials series.

Technology

AP has been in the news a bit recently for its use of automated reporting. Philana Patterson, our assistant business editor, explained that bots now produce 4,250 corporate earnings stories per quarter, more than 14 times the number written manually. Additionally, two to three reporters are now free to work on more in-depth coverage.

Patterson, along with News Automation Editor Justin Myers, also provided tips for working with partners and vendors outside the media industry, saying it’s important to invest in the relationship and to provide resources unique to your organization. You need to provide examples of what you want and to give background information about your audiences and best practices — but be open to ideas, too.

“Once you get the bugs out, usually it’s never going to happen again,” Patterson said, referring to the testing process.

AP has always been a round-the-clock news organization, so this digital landscape feels like home. That’s how I see it now as I retire the “newbie” ONA label for good.


Anthony Marquez

Anthony is the Los Angeles-based director of regional media for The Associated Press, responsible for member and customer relationships, strategic analysis, revenue, and planning and business development in Southern California, southern Nevada and Arizona. He is also the chief AP business contact for digital startups in Southern California.

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